Thursday, April 22, 2010

West Virginia: Land of Tomatoes?

It's getting to be that time of year again. Time to be getting your tomato plants out into your garden. It seems that everyone I know has a few varieties that they swear by and plant year after year. Many people prefer to buy their plants every year from local greenhouses, since that is often the most convenient way for them to do it, however, many "tomato purists" prefer to grow their own plants from seed, especially if they have their own tomato secrets.

The flavor of a tomato will vary greatly based on variety and soil. So if you grow an Old German tomato in Cabell County, WV, it will likely taste somewhat different than one grown in Pendleton County, WV. Not better or worse, just different.

With all of the recent interest and popularity of heirloom tomatoes, I thought I'd do a little research on West Virginia Heirloom tomatoes. I was aware of a few varieties of West Virginia Heirloom tomatoes before starting this research, after all, my family has long sworn by the merits of West Virginia Centennial tomatoes because of their resistance to blight, and for flavor, nothing can even begin to come close to the Old German. Regardless of the variety you choose for your garden, remember, heirloom varieties are usually more flavorful and unique than hybrid varieties commonly found in greenhouses of the region.

I recall that my granddad always grew Early Girl tomatoes (a hybrid) because they ripened the earliest in the season, but he would always back up his Early Girl's with a more flavorful variety, usually Old German's. It was always sight (and sometimes a smell) to behold when visiting his house in the late summer heat. Nobody I knew had air conditioning then, so we would all gather on the front porch. Incidentally, this was also the location where Granddad would store all of his ripe tomatoes. He had a huge shelf at the end of the porch, right beside of the porch swing, where he would place nearly ripened tomatoes. In the late afternoon, the yellow jackets would be attracted to the sweet smell of the ripe tomatoes, and it seems we were always swatting them away. Nobody ever did anything about removing the tomatoes from the front porch, so I suppose dealing with the yellow jackets was all part of the experience of tomato time at granddad's house.

I asked my granddad one time, why did he pick the tomatoes when they were nearly ripe and sit them up to ripen, when he could just as easily let them ripen on the vine. Chickens, he said. Chickens will peck a ripe tomato faster than a flea will jump on a dog's back. So to protect his tomatoes, he would always pick them, and sit them on the porch shelf to complete the ripening process. Fencing the garden to keep out the chickens was unheard of, this was just how things were done. Then you had personal preferences coming into play, some of the family liked firm, tart tomatoes, so they would choose from the bounty, the newest specimens, as they were still not quite fully ripe. These tended to be firmer. Other family members preferred "mooshy 'maters", those were the quite often, over-ripened individuals that were almost ready for the slop bucket. Many days, i'd see my mother make herself a mooshy 'mater sandwich and watch the juice drip from her elbows. The tomatoes would be that juicy and ripe. When the tomatoes became over ripe, even past the "mooshy 'mater" stage, they would end up in one of the slop buckets around the corner of the house. Every morning and evening, my granddad would inspect his bounty and pick out the worst of the lot, and off they'd go to the hogs. I should also mention that the tomatoes on the porch were also home canned and put up for winter, but as anyone who grows tomatoes will know, when you are blessed with a bounty of tomatoes, they will cover you up.

No matter where you live, and whether you prefer hard, meaty tomatoes or mooshy 'maters, I urge you to consider planting a couple of varieties of West Virginia Heirloom tomatoes in your garden this year. I'll think you'll be happy you did.

Below is a list that I have compiled of West Virginia Heirloom Tomato Varieties, it is not a complete list, and if you know of others, please let me know. To obtain any of these varieties, a simple google search will locate a retailer who will be happy to hook you up, and remember, if you save a few of your West Virginia Heirloom tomato seeds after this growing season, you can plant them again next year. Who knows, perhaps someday, you will have developed an heirloom variety of your own.

West Virginia Heirloom Tomato Varieties:


Akers WV



Big Sandy



Cindy's West Virginia



Dr. Suds Capon Bridge

Germaid Red

Gallo Plum

Giant Syrian

Golden Ponderosa


Homer Fike's Yellow Oxheart

Irish Pink

Kellogg’s Breakfast (there is some dissent on whether this is actually a WV Heirloom, but we’ll claim it as one of our own).

Mortgage Lifter

Mountaineer Mystery

Mountain Princess

Old German

Paw Paw

Striped German

Tappy’s Finest



Watermelon Pink

West Virginia

West Virginia 63

West Virginia Centennial

West Virginia Penitentiary

West Virginia Straw

West Virginia Yellow

Yellow Cookie

So which West Virginia Heirloom varieties would you like to try this year? Have you tried any of them in the past? What were your experiences with them?

I'd better end this post quickly, suddlenly i'm feeling the need for a great big "mooshy 'mater" sandwich fresh from granddad's front porch.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hope in the Redbud Trees

I was looking at the blooming redbud trees up on the mountain
And eating what was left of my chocolate Easter rabbit,
When mama came running out of the kitchen door, hollering about how
There was something going on down at the mine.

Mawmaw jumped in the car, and drove us down to the mine.
She kept repeating over and over, “My baby, my baby...”
I ran after mama and mawmaw as they made their way to a crowd,
Who were gathered near the mine gates.

Some woman in a loud, white Pontiac pulled up.
Her radio was playing a Patsy Cline song.
Tears had cut through the make-up on her face.
She carried with her a picture of her husband, who was in the mine.

Some miners came around, telling how there was an explosion,
They just shook their heads, and said it was bad. Real bad.
Mama began to pray aloud, and the crowd hushed with bowed heads.
I just watched the mine and waited for Daddy to come out.

More people gathered around. Rumors ran wild.
The air was tense; strangers cried on each other’s shoulders.
Fire trucks and rescue squads arrived, some from places I’d never heard of.
But no news from the company ever came around.

The news people came with their lights and big camera’s.
They were trying to interview people for the evening news.
They were looking for answers, just like everybody else.
With melted chocolate covered hands, I waved to them.

A preacher went over to the camera people,
He asked them to leave the families alone for awhile,
On TV, he asked viewers for pray for the miners and their families.
The news people went away, out to the road, and stopped people to talk to.

Word came around that seven men were dead.
More were trapped inside. Nobody knew exactly who or how many.
Everybody waited for news and for the company to update them,
And they clung to hope as the evening slipped into night.

Some men from a rescue squad came over.
Many of them were crying, but more of them were trying not to cry.
They shared some of the names of the dead they’d seen on a list.
The names of the dead went through the crowd, repeated from every lip.

When the names reached mama, she let loose a cutting scream,
And mawmaw fell to the ground and sat there holding her head in her hands.
With forced strength, mama whispered to me, “Baby, your daddy went with Jesus.”
Through my tears, I saw the blooming redbud trees up on the mountain.